The Watch Thief – Chapter 23

October 4th, 1919.
Hotel Adlon, Unter den Linden, Berlin. 

Giant square marble columns flanked Hotel Adlon. Max Bauer was only there because of Wulle, who had the highest respect for the Hungarian. Max had his standards so was impressed to find Lincoln tidy, his boots shone and shirt pressed. He felt Lincoln’s scrawny hand wilt as he squeezed it. Reventlow walked by then. He greeted Max, who caught his sneer at Lincoln. It was warm in the Adlon: gas heat and electric lit. Coffee was poured and Trebitsch counted thirty-five marks from his wallet. Max’s stomach churned at the sight of it. The waiter said there was no charge for one of the great war heroes.

“Colonel, I sense you don’t trust me and I know why. It is because of my Jewish birth. You should know I turned my back on Judaism at thirteen. My wife is a German. You worked with Fritz Haber on chemical weapons. His wife was a Jew who became a Christian.”

“…you have an incredible memory,” said Max.

“I have left both Judaism and Christianity far behind me.”

Max was taken aback at his forthrightness though soon they talked of Amerongen. The Kaiser should have enforced mandatory war service before I advised him to step down. Could the Crown Prince take the throne? Max smiled. The son was a good man. He’d served with him at Verdun, bloody mistake of a battle. Trebitsch asked the Colonel if it was true he developed the Krupp mortar? Max laughed. He did so without approval and was nearly dismissed but that High Command saw how effective it was!

The nation needed a strong government. Yes, Lincoln, under one leader, preferably instituting siege law. Some suggested Ludendorff could take command, Trebitsch said. Maybe. Though he was not the same since the day the tanks smashed through their lines at Paris. The words came out hurt. Max wasn’t used to opening up. Poor Erich, it almost destroyed him. He gazed to the palm tree in the corner. Trebitsch sympathised, but reminded Max it was plausible. They had fought a war at home as well as overseas. Commander Falkenhayn, Chancellor Hollweg and other weak politicians fell because of your intervention, Colonel. How easy it would be to remove President Ebert, Minister Noske and their lackeys! Max said they were a fucking phantom government. Politicians were all apes who sat at home, blew their big mouths off and couldn’t care less. Trebitsch cursed Ebert and those who bent the knee at Versailles. Why should Germany be the only country to suffer, to be legally guilty? However, said Max, the existing government had made themselves into a lightning conductor, taking the blame for all the wrong choices. In some senses his military dictatorship was operating already, silently.

In days ahead they met to talk justice and revenge, and finished one another’s sentences. At the end of the second week Max brought Trebitsch to Hotel Eden. As palatial as the Adlon, the function room was loud with forty soldiers boldly in debate and song. Most were in uniform, decorated with an even barred gold Baltic Cross or crescent mooned emblems on the wings of a Silesian Eagle. Versailles plotters could think they decimated the Army, said Max, but the bastards had instead run a recruiting drive for our Freikorps. He introduced Commander Pabst, a jolly fellow with a toothbrush moustache and an air of mischief. His cavalry guards were all around the room. Pabst told them that on this very spot he had communists executed. I killed Luxemberg and Liebknecht myself! Canaris, of the military court, hung his head. Von Jagow, the ex-Berlin head of police, drank half a tankard. One of the soldiers said they were doing their duty. Ebert and Defence Minister Noske wanted us to put the Spartacists down. We put them down! To the President! Men laughed all around. Somebody slapped Trebitsch on the back and encouraged him to sing with them.

Max walked and young soldiers moving aside like quicksilver, saluting him too. Waiters carried silver dishes of sandwiches and wrapped figs. There were veterans in search of stability, some mercenaries too, but all he knew were patriots. Captain Ehrhardt and his men from Dobertitz were there that night. Ehrhardt’s unmistakeably expressive face and goatee strip chin popped up across the room. Before Max could get to him, he had to get around Reventlow.

“Colonel, it is good to see you. I hope tonight we will begin to fight back against the Jewish globalist conspiracy.”

Reventlow had short black hair on a fat face which sloped from his eyes. He’d served in the navy and as a journalist backed Max’s own calls for submarine warfare.

“Have you read the Protocols of the elders of Zion? It is the Jewish master plan to take over the world.”

“The socialists are to blame,” said Ehrhardt’s man, Runge. “How could we pay five trillion? Even the British thought it ludicrous.”

“Russia shows us where that road ends,” said Max. “A conspiracy of socialists and liberals and fucking intellectuals. And the women! They should have been conscripted too.”

“Well,” said Reventlow, “they’re all round here aren’t they? The orientals, the faggots, the homeless. Nürnbergerstrasse is full of the snails, ones with their countries on their backs. We need to stop the country going to the Bolsheviks,” he said.

He and Reventlow followed the spirits trolley to Ehrhardt and Wolfgang Kapp, an elderly activist whose face was like the eruption of a volcano around a pair of spectacles. They asked Max about his meeting with General Malcolm, the head of the British mission. It was a positive meeting. Malcolm appreciated their protection from the socialists; perhaps he would not challenge a coup.

Trebitsch found them then. The journalist who went to Amerongen. Max led the cheers. When they settled, Kapp said they would soon have a monarch again. Max casually suggested they didn’t need one, and Reventlow nodded in time.

“The Crown Prince should not be difficult,” said Ehrhardt. “We should ask. General Luttwitz says we should demand fresh elections.”

“We’re having elections already, we don’t need another!” thundered Max. “Democracy is the last resort the rule of capitalists and the demagogues and press whom they pay!”

“The Crown Prince could take over from his father and someone should secure his approval for any putsch,” said Trebitsch. “Something has to happen!”

The first grand hotel on Wilhelmplatz was the Kaiserhof: two hundred and sixty modern rooms with electric, bathrooms, telephone, pneumatic lifts, gas kitchens and steam heating. It was as big as a street. Max caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror: a balding, tired man with eyes that saw blood atop the body mass of a rhinoceros. Trebitsch met him and broached the subject of travelling to see the Crown Prince at his Wieringen sanctuary. Karl Weigand had interviewed the Prince and though Weigand found Trebitsch journalistic contacts he needed, his trip was not for that purpose. This would need a special introduction. I’ll provide it, Max said, but I can’t guarantee you will be seen. Colonel, please do not tell anyone, even my secretary, Mrs. Lenkiet, must not know. Max said a woman’s place was in the home, then gave a wink and laughed.

Max kept his medals with his clothing. They weren’t for hanging from the walls. His apartment was tidy and conservative. In the study he sat at the bureau desk reading the October 7th Deutsche Tageszeitung. There was a column by Reventlow, who said Mr. Trebitsch Lincoln represented no-one. His visit to Amerongen was a fairy tale, a Republican provocation designed to discredit the monarchists. Readers were warned to ignore him at all costs. Max was incensed. A few days later, Officer Kummer at Wieringen wrote of meeting Trebitsch. He had good intent but was too pushy and might easily compromise the Prince. Max wondered did Kummer not know that was the point? Was he too blind to see that action was called upon? The first letter from Trebitsch came a few days later. He was optimistic about meeting the Prince but was appalled at Reventlow’s actions. Would Max confront him and make clear they had known each other some time?

When Max went out it was never the same faces: industrialists, politicians, journalists and always the loyal men of the Reichswehr and Freikorps; the German Army. Their accents were from Wustermark and Potsdam, Leipzig and Kopenick and when they weren’t talking they were swigging beer and munching grub. Erich Luttwitz was there, without his usual unpredictable energy. Luttwitz was sixty, black eyebrows over white hair and wrinkles spread around his sickly skeletal face. Was it not enough, he moaned to Max, to reduced their army by seventy percent, now to half that? Anywhere in the room Max went that evening he heard defeatism: the confiscated territory in China and Africa; the Saar mines; hyper-inflation; the war guilt clause. The few men not in a dark night of the soul talked big plans for revolution made of hot air. Luttwitz and he were heroes. They knew it and knew men talked just to impress them. Max’s ears suddenly pricked at the droning sound of Ernst Reventlow.

“Trebitsch Lincoln? The man’s either dangerous or a buffoon. All his talk of propaganda and overseas support is quite worthless.”

Max charged forward and stabbed a finger at him.

“How dare you?” he guldered. “Trebitsch Lincoln has worked successfully and reliably in the direction that we desire!”

Silence crashed the room. All eyes scorned the journalist. Though three feet away Max could feel him shaking and smelled the gas in his pants.

“Right now Trebitsch is there talking to the Crown Prince about backing our action. And what are you doing, Reventlow? Any of you? Sitting here, moping. Or fantasising!”

Luttwitz wiped a serviette over his lips and smiled.

“I am sorry I have offended you, Colonel Bauer,” said Reventlow.

“Oh shut up you damn fool,” he said and then turned away.

November frost cut across the Spree as Trebitsch, Luttwitz and Bauer passed a soup kitchen line on Reichstagufer. They were lost souls, crippled by war or unemployment. The Americans at The Hague were sympathetic to their work there, Trebitsch said, and he’d brought home a new woman. You’ll get gonorrhoea or syphilis Max warned him sombrely. She worked with German prisoners of war, he said. Luttwitz joked he was definitely at risk. They passed the Reichstag and through Brandenburg Gate. The wind gathered like a mugging and along the hedges of the Tiergarten. Max had sworn Luttwitz to say nothing about the identity of ‘Herr Neumann’, the man they were visiting. When the Old Sinner answered the door he watched Trebitsch trying to place the mashed frown, looking back and forth between Neumann’s broad shoulders. His eyes popped wide open when he recognised Ludendorff. He shook the General’s hand again and was laughing giddily.

Upstairs, Max talked passionately of contributions, agreements and frontier rectifications. He means military dictatorship, said Luttwitz. The military would rise, Max told them, it was only a matter of time. They lost because politicians kept interfering with High Command, and now were fighting a war behind enemy lines. Total warfare, said Ludendorff. The foundation of human society, said Max. Trebitsch confessed he wasn’t admitted to the Prince at Wieringen. It was an island of mud, no place for a future King. Max wondered if they might just assassinate the Kaiser: clear the line of succession that way. Luttwitz was Supreme Commander since Ludendorff’s dismissal and said he would convey any order they saw fit but hoped it wouldn’t come to killing the Kaiser. They could tell people he was mad, Ludendorff said. Trebitsch could plant stories through his contacts in the papers. He even had plans for his own paper. Bauer said he would introduce him to the former vice chancellor. When the time comes, said Luttwitz, we can dissolve the Reichstag, outlaw strikes and abolish unemployment insurance. Our men will support us. Reichswehr does not fire on Reichswehr. Between them they would throw out the undesirable elements and make Germany great again.

Max and Trebitsch met every few days, for drinks or to plan with the others. Sometimes he had the brunette from The Hague, Elsa Von Nagelein, on his arm, or Margaret Lenkiet. His cousin from Budapest, a skinny lad named Krausz joined them and was awed by the company. Max was running late to the meeting at Pabst’s home the night Trebitsch walked out on them. Kapp said he had left half an hour before and didn’t seem quite himself. Ehrhardt was more forthcoming. The Hungarian announced their meetings were a waste of time and they should have overthrown the government already. They carried on without him but Max had a bad feeling. The next day he marched to Trebitsch’s flat on the Doblingerstrasse, near Wulle’s paper. Max found him with a half-packed suitcase laid on the bed, brimming with his friend’s new clothes. His voice was excited and mean.

“I’m going home to Budapest. I don’t know if I will return. I’m tired of politics here. I heard last night the Crown Prince’s adjutants were in Berlin! Did they not even call on you?”

“No, they did not, nor did they call on the General. It seems we were snubbed, however…”

“The Prince is making foolish remarks in the press and if you can’t bring him in line, if we are unable to organise a united action in his favour, well, it is damn pitiful!”

Max nodded. Trebitsch rolled another shirt into his case and said, “the men you surround yourself with? Max, they are just as foolish! The English have a saying: strike while the iron is hot. But for Ludendorff and yourself they’d give the iron away! It’s a miserable shame the lot of it!”

The winter sun passed the window passed and threw a cold shade thrown across Max’s face. “I respect your decision. I am not sure I agree entirely.”

“There is no point in me continuing to be involved in this charade. I must withdraw my services.”

Max heard little of him after that. A friend in the Foreign Office said he’d provided Trebitsch an introduction to the embassy in Berlin. Max’s thoughts were more concerned with the disillusionment among his soldiers as well as the enemies in his own government who kept close watch on him.

It was an early February morning air when insistent knocking came to his door. A brittle winter air slid into his bones as he opened it. Waldemar Pabst, normally in the habit of showing the Colonel due respect, invited himself in and pushed a newspaper into Max’s hands. He was shaking like a leaf. Max took a minute and scanned the lead story. The Allies had called for the arrest of nine hundred military men, including Ludendorff, Hindenburg, Luttwitz and himself.

“The shit has hit the fan,” said Pabst.

 

#
c. Andy Luke.
The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.
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The Watch Thief – Chapter 22

Berlin–Lehrte Railway, 15 September, 1919.

Alfred Anderson in suit, sweeping bronze overcoat and fedora, kept his broadsheet firm but low to permit an eye line. He moved to turn the pages of his paper or when the train shook Trebitsch’s shiny walking stick onto the floor. Trebitsch wore grey spats over ankles, a black cape, suit with bowtie and black bowler hat.
“I said, when Mr. Wulle introduced us on Unter den Linden, yes, there’s a man who I will get on with. Do you know at that cafe I met the Captain of Koepenick? Mr. Wulle said he’d introduce me to a Herr Neumann. Neumann, hmmm? Do you know him? It doesn’t matter. We shall give your employer Mr. Hearst some incredible story. All of America will hear of it. Oh, you and I shall have an adventure, Anderson!”
The window to Castle Wolfsburg passes gorse walls quick. Bridges black out country. Microscopic slides, faraway stamps of mountain green, a water speckle of town-bridge through filter of hanging wires.
“They are particularly cruel, the British. They transferred me to where they executed my cell-mate, Roger Casement. Then they delayed my release, but made sure to dangle it before me first! I was expressly told not to return to Budapest. I think it was because of the revolution. The Bela Kun regime? Oh, they feared my involvement. My brother, Lajos, was very big in Socialist circles but he was not even in Hungary then! My mother would have been pleased to see me. Although there were men there, greedy fat oil-men, who wanted me thrown in prison!”
Anderson was heavy set, his lips rarely moving his waxed moustache. The livestock threaten to gridlock Lehrte’s city streets and the trains similarly pack its station. There were dots of trees and telegraph poles in dots and a fly buzzing around the curve of the window glass. Then Hannover, three hundred thousand people in a free trading modern suburb.
“I was saying earlier, the British tried to stop me going home. I intended to! Ah, Hannover! When I got to here I decided, no, I shan’t. Why give them what they expect? I shall see Germany. I had no ticket and they became awkward; and then they remembered who I am and let me ride free. People gave out free food and sang with great sentiment. Your people are the best people in the world!”
Then they are pushed into a new shuddering. Petershagen: sparse lakes and buildings, like an archaeological dig. Anderson was quiet still. Salzebergen: smoking oil refineries and for a time all he saw was trees, like a jigsaw puzzle. Buds tapped telegraph signals: bored, bored, and bored. Then over the border to the Netherlands and Oldenzaal, bigger than his last visit with buses, trains, but the familiar brick water tower. The train honked over inclines of public paths, Pothoek and the Lek River, Gelderland’s lakes painting sunset. More than a few times he thought he glimpsed farms surveyed for Rowntree. There was a woman opposite them in the carriage and her reflection passed over a farm spectral-like.
“I expect you think it strange to be making the same journey Kaiser Wilhelm made? I do too. I was at his own grandmother’s jubilee celebrations you know? She would turn in her grave if she knew what we know now. I am excited to hear what the Kaiser has to say to all of this, are you not Mr. Anderson?”
The last of the window reflections disintegrated in overcast skies. Anderson was sleeping, or pretending. Trebitsch gazed out at the dark ridge valley of paper mills, hunting lodges and the vicarage of Kootwijkerbroek. Anderson woke on cue at Utrecht where they disembarked and breakfasted. They walked where the Rhine flowed in canal and wharfs, by St. Martin’s and the churches of Dom Square. They asked directions of several people on the way to the automobile trader. Once it was purchased, Trebitsch donned his black leather gloves and jumped behind the wheel.
“Ford Model T,” he exclaimed, “T for Trebitsch!”
There were projected flashes of dawn rays on the gatehouse and courtyard estate At Doorn. Amerongen was signposted as they took Dutch country winds, hard gusts in their heads. Trebitsch incessantly shouted over it all. Anderson didn’t even nod.
“This is beautiful, is it not?? The Dutch chose well to stay out of the war!! As did the Kaiser!! If you could call avoiding execution a choice!! The arrogance of the British!!”
Landscape rose over flat water meadow, the late thirteenth century castle, the wooden clock tower motored to them. The car slowed over the entrance bridge and drew to a stop at the gate. They looked to the house of ivy and the stables, when the guard returned, walking between four parked cars. With him was a General, and Trebitsch walked ahead and shook his hand. He was a lean man, but broad and with a fat white beard.
“This is Alfred Anderson, an employee of Randolph Hearst he represents 320 papers! And I am Trebitsch Lincoln, perhaps you have heard of me.”
“Yes, yes I have. I am General Dommers. You were seeking an interview. What is it about?”
“There is much talk in Berlin of a putsch,” said Trebitsch. “It would not fail, I am told, if the Kaiser made an official statement not to interfere and allow his son to take the throne. In any case it would be most valuable to talk with him.”
“I am afraid he is seeing no-one today and of course, I cannot speak on the Kaiser’s behalf. Perhaps you might come back tomorrow?”
“Wonderful wonderful, yes we will,” said Trebitsch.
The village of Amerongen village had a derelict cream butter plant and rusted tobacco factory. However, tulips grew in their masses and they drank and ate by a brewery yard covered in machinery.
“What they did to Germany at Versailles was barbaric and humiliating. Even some British papers regarded the reparations as too substantial. If I had gotten to the conference…well, I would have reminded them how the British and French helped start that war! In your column you should reflect that. Germany acted out of the same sense of alliance that Wilson now champions.”
“Yes,” said Anderson, and supped his beer.

The next day Trebitsch drove them through to the inner steel gates alongside the moat in front of the castle. They looked to the gardeners re-planting bushes and bricking a wall.
“The abdication was signed here,” said Trebitsch.
General Dommers marched towards them and Trebitsch waved.
“Staff only are permitted this far,” he said.
“General, it is us! We have called to see the Kaiser!”
“Oh yes. I am afraid I could not get you an audience or his thoughts on the putsch.”
“I see. You know if Germany had four years of peace instead of war foisted on us by the British, Germany would have been the economic master of Europe without challenge. What are your own thoughts, General, on the matter of this potential putsch?”
Trebitsch saw dig with right hand a man who could have been the Kaiser. Dommers was blocking his view to the garden and Trebitsch stood up on his tip-toes.
“I could not give my opinion on the matter. Perhaps you might be willing to call back?”

The next day they found an empty car at the front gate and General Dommers already out by the guard post. He was with a man in a bowler hat and eye-glasses and pointed to Trebitsch.
“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” said Dommers. “His Majesty has been and is otherwise occupied. I may try again later.”
“We should be back in Berlin soon,” said Anderson.
“Trebitsch Lincoln? Lorne Linham, London Daily Graphic. We heard about your visits here and I was sent to cover it.”
General Dommers went back inside and locked the gate behind him. Anderson was already returning to the car.

“Have you any words for the British people?” asked Linham.
“Personally, I told the British authorities in writing, that I would devote my life to working against England. I lost no time when I regained my liberty, and last week in Berlin I made a good start.”
“What were you doing in Berlin?” said Linham.
“I have been writing for Reinhold Wulle’s paper, Deutsche Zeitung. He opposed the war and is one of those seeking to rebuild Germany after the indignities heaped upon it.”
“What are you here to talk about with Kaiser Wilhelm?”
“I cannot say, though we would have no more than a few pleasant chats of a purely personal and private nature.”

In bowler hat and cape Trebitsch made his way through Potsdamer Platz, wondering if he had found and burned every last copy in Berlin of that stupid Daily Graphic interview. The thought of his new friends seeing it made him claustrophobic. It was an embarrassment waiting to happen. He wondered if Anderson got a copy before he was recalled to New York. Half way along Königgrätzerstrasse was the Hotel Excelsior, one of Berlin’s larger venues but low-key.
The private bar was busy with finely dressed waiters pouring drinks at trolleys and girls serving ham and sauerkraut roll-ups or cheese. His editor had swept back hair but otherwise resembled Trebitsch like a brother and greeted him like one. Mrs. Margaret Lenkiet was a tall brunette similar in appearance to Trebitsch’s wife and he kissed her cheeks affectionately. Within seconds of the speaking of Trebitsch’s name those from the groups around broke off and inserted themselves into the discussion.
“Mr. Stinnes,” said Wulle, “owns Deutsche Zeitung and is a colleague of Curt Elschner, who owns the Excelsior.” Then he brought his voice to a whisper. “Otherwise we’d never have been able to afford this.”
Trebitsch said not quietly, “Well, we have a stupid government that gives into a five trillion debt with more to be added later!”
“Trebitsch, this is Mr. Stinnes,” said Mrs. Lenkiet.
Hugo Stinnes had great bushy hair above and below face. Trebitsch turned red. Stinnes laughed and patted him on the back.
“That is alright. They’re worthy of our hatred. I have seen your writings, Mr. Lincoln, and I am impressed,” said Stinnes.
Trebitsch recalled Stinnes had made his money with coal and oil exports along the barges and immediately thought of his similarity to his father, though Stinnes was only ten years older than himself.
“Kuno von Westarp, I am the editor of Kreuzzeitung. It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lincoln. Is it true you met the Kaiser?”
Von Westarp was a small stout man with an angry face of bursting blood vessels. From his side came another person, asking what Trebitsch thought of the Kaiser. Did he meet Empress Augusta? Across the room a dead eyed grim and ugly man watched as he leaned against a pillar. It was Ernst Reventlow, a fifty year old nationalist provocateur journalist. Trebitsch had run into him at various newspaper offices and looked away from him, shaking his head and smirking.
“No, no, I did not meet him unfortunately.”
Wulle excused himself. There was a man he wanted to introduce and set off to fetch him. Stinnes was impressed so many people knew Trebitsch and told him he would have Wulle would commission him to write another piece. The editor returned with a kindly round faced bald man with hope in his bespectacled eyes and dapper dress. Wulle introduced him as Karl Weigand and told the others he was Anderson’s replacement as Berlin correspondent.
“When Alfred left his secretary found employment with Mr. Lincoln,” said Wulle. “The two of you will have to share Mrs. Lenkiet’s services. Something else you have in common: you have both made the trip to Amerongen.”
“Yes, I am gracious,” said Trebitsch. “It was Mr. Weigand who scooped the first interview with the Emperor.”
“Mr. Lincoln, a pleasure to meet you,” said Wulle. “I could have chased you all over New York if I wasn’t so busy getting shot at on the Eastern Front!”
“You would not have caught me and if you were getting shot at I was glad we were not near each other!”
With Weigand’s arrival more were gathering around them, even Reventlow had left his post.
“We’ll introduce these men to Max Bauer, perhaps Herr Neumann,” said Stinnes.
“Neumann? Who is he?” asked Trebitsch.
Realising they had company Stinnes asked if he and Weigand might be excused. A dozen questions on the Kaiser’s health and castle were asked of Weigand as they departed. Trebitsch noted the snub immediately and Wulle, knowing his form, changed tack.
“Yes, you really ought to meet Max Bauer,” he said.
“Mr. Wulle, why doesn’t Germany work for co-operation with Russia and China?” he asked. “They have been left in the cold as we have. Not to mention Japan, Turkey and Italy.”
“That’s a good question. I think you and Colonel Bauer might get along.”
“He was Ludendorff’s right hand man,” said Mrs. Lenkiet.
“Yes,” said Trebitsch, looking back to the people moving off in search of Weigand. “But he is not Ludendorff is he?”

#
c. Andy Luke.
The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

The Watch Thief – Chapter 21

Brixton Prison, 26 June, 1916.

Sir Roger Casement brought pen to paper, fever converging at front of his head and clotting. Every sound in his cell came acutely. The malaria fed on him still. The next prisoner over was speaking constantly, a Hungarian accent, accentuating Casement’s own migraines. He was excited and annoyingly optimistic.

“I was active within the consulates of Europe! I am given to understand you knew, intimately, the consulates of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro. That is where you produced your humanitarian report?”

Casement sighed and put down his pen.

“That was on the slavery and mutilation in the Congo, Mr. Lincoln.”

“Ah! My work on human rights was carried out in Belgium. France and Germany too.”

There was silence and Casement recognised it as a moment to return to preparing the address he was to make to the Old Bailey.

“I heard you met my old friend, Captain Von Papen, in Berlin,” sang Trebitsch. “You worked together on the British uprising in India.”

“He and I negotiated a declaration whereby Germany would not invade Ireland,” said Casement. “Now look. Mr. Lincoln. I’m very sorry but I must prepare for my hearing.”

“I know how this is. Your hearing is tomorrow. Mine is next week. Your prosecutor is F.E. Smith? I met him briefly at the National Liberal Club. A bully and a child.”

Casement said, “Smith has a mind to smear me. He has given the court intensely personal documents. Writings not intended for public spectacle.”

“A Mr. Maundy Gregory will have obtained those. A greasy little blackmailer who is Smith’s to call upon,” said Trebitsch.

On the bed in his tiny cell, Trebitsch dogged ears on his own sheath of papers, and then straightened them out again.

“Reginald Hall, Maundy Gregory, they’re all against us. Hall’s to blame you know. I’m a British subject but like you I hate England. They charged me with forgery; a trumped-up charge in order that I might be shot as a spy. But I outwitted them – I’m one of the brainiest of men!”

Trebitsch’s eyes rolled in his head and he tapped the sheets and the mattress.

“Mr. Casement, They have not heard the end of this!” he said.

From Brixton, Casement went to Pentonville and Trebitsch was sentenced to Parkhurst. His cell-mate was frizzy haired, barely an adult, five dots on the web of his sticky fingers. He was called Harry and Trebitsch entertained him with the story of a Brooklyn pick-pocket who swiped his own lawyer’s wrist-watch. Once he had tamed the boy he tried to teach him but had little luck. The other prisoners all knew about him. Piss off, spy! Hang the Kaiser, they jeered. He told them all he would have his revenge on England.

In the library, Trebitsch read in the newspaper of his brother, Simon. The article explained that he was an American soldier, caught with another man engaged in the act of sodomy. The matter came to the authorities attention after the escape from jail of his famous brother. Considered high risk, he was put under watch with the fugitive’s friends and family in New York. Simon had been sentenced to time in Alcatraz. Trebitsch persevered. He wrote to anyone he thought might make a difference. Dear Mr. Asquith, I am an ex-researcher for His Majesty’s Government, on poverty and European policy. He wrote any way that might make a difference. Dear Mr. Lloyd George, I am a former member of your parliament who through a travesty of justice has found himself incarcerated. Trebitsch feared his Harry, might try to pilfer his letters, his daily democracies, but he could barely read. Trebitsch read out the letters to The Mail, to The Times, but the lad who was called Harry simply laughed.

Margarethe could not see him but she wrote. She was working as a housekeeper; Ignatius and John were working in a hospital. He wrote back about his visit to the prison library and the hospital, which he enjoyed for the clean bed linen, good food and sunlight. Word of his writing had gotten around and became a commodity lent out to prisoners going to trial. A pacifist accused of treason and a simpleton denied his family visits, he represented both and they inspired him when he wrote to the Home Secretary. Dear Mr. Shortt and or the Foreign Office. Dear Mr. Crowe, you will be interested to learn… Dear Captain Hall, I hope we can each put aside enmities of the past, grown by misunderstanding. We both want what is best for Britain… The two page standard for letters of petition could not hold him.

“Warden Allison, there are a lot of devilish lies for which it would take a hundred pages to explain the calculated barbarities inflicted upon me!”

When British and French empires waged unjust bloodshed on the German people and their own people, he said, there was no controlling the weapons of war and a reckoning must come, Mr. Tyrrell, before you yourself are caught in the crossfire!! The letters to civil servants and cabinet members brought little positive response and one day Warden Allison called to inform him the request for extra facilities was denied. The extra facilities would have allowed a hundred pages explaining the necessities in his case so Prime Minister Lloyd George would understand a) his innocence, b) his value as an internationally recognised champion, c) his negotiating skills designed to bring war to a swift end, and part II) a just end. He would not have said he had told them so. Merely, he would have included citations referencing prior communications. Dear Mr. Kell, I write to you, head of MI5, as a former missionary and curate. I pray you will see past the abuse my name has suffered, knowing you are a man of God and we are all equal in his eyes.I have aided the allied forces with valuable espionage work! I am innocent in all of this and unjustly treated. Why are they doing this to me?

There were evenings when his thinking was clotted; intellect gummed, not exercising will. He smoked a cigarette, his first in weeks. The charm had gone out of it. He read from Margatethe but on one occassion was so sick he could not even imagine her. He could not conjure her voice. She was still unhappy. The locals did not appreciate the German in the neighbourhood. Ignatius and John had found jobs at a farm, after the hospital closed, but they were barely making ends meet.

It was a day in August 1917 hopping benches in the mess hall with Raven, Mather and Cholomondely, when he was withdrawn to rise. The governor stripped Trebitsch of his petition privileges for a year. He told no-one on the wing: he didn’t tell himself for a few days. Instead his thoughts were random: of parliament in recess and churchmen on sabbatical. A night later in the week, he slept deep five minutes and awoke, hyper-ventilating, feeling the wall of his cell for escape. He experienced the same the night after. He could not breathe.

Though the winter had come it was too hot. He pulled on his jumper. Yet lying in his vest the damp air wailed its way in. The draught slipped into his neck and shoulder and his head was heavy with tightness. He welcomed the work in the machine shop. One afternoon he returned to the wing completely drained and slept, smiling and thinking of the early rise ahead of him but Orpheus did not release him until late the following morning. He dreamt Margarethe had found her letters forged and was sobbing. The seat in the cell where he wrote was ill-fitting and his clothes clinged to him in punishment. He would go to bed immediately after each work day. His head rolled, a furnace around his eyes, the heat of sleep locking them. He slept longer and longer and the night tremors continued: Inside him there was another person, screaming; flapping; striking out at the walls. His bald head squeezed damp from the wrinkles and he turned over. And the next night, he awoke as that man with clenched fist. He knows he will die and is crying for mercy. He waits for the lights to be turned out, or moves in bed from the electric glare. There is nothing left he wants to do. In the morning he dreamt of Jody and T.C. Their wounds made him cry. Their voices were those of his sons, Ignatius telling his father when he moved things around, they stunk. Those two weeks, Trebitsch would not talk. In the canteen, other inmates mocked the silence. Trebitsch the mute. Go on, speak. A German had cut out his tongue. Let’s hear his explanation! Come out and speak or are you stuck with two tongues? Trebitsch snapped. He got up, enraged. Again, he could not breathe, nor could he speak, and this made it worse. His eyes rolled to the top of his head and he collapsed on the canteen floor.

In his cell, Trebitsch wiped saliva through stubble and complained aloud about Dr. James. He’d been in and out of the infirmary in an instant. His stomach kicked and he heard close in his ear those three days had passed. In the darkness of his bunk he heard the same voice in Hungarian and at that moment two streams of sweat fell towards each eye. An Englishman asked if the Speaker would inform the House when the cell-mate Harry had departed. Whether it was three weeks or days Trebitsch had been alone in there, he couldn’t recall.

Trebitsch had a recurring dream. He was never sure what it was: only slices were remembered, like the image of a sundial in moonlight. He did remember the recurring feeling when he awoke. He had multiples. The curate and the man of the consulate and the missionary who had a great German voice but no power. There was the spy who was constantly ill, his physicality flickering. Nervously he assured Trebitsch the darkness was good to hide in. They spoke out to him in half-sentences: in French, German, Hungarian and English.

“Copper water and silver chain, take us from sin,” said the oil baron.

“I didn’t make the rules. If you resign now…” said the missionary.

And the Federal Agent said, “What are you: bull or bear?”

Dr. James brought Trebitsch back to the prison hospital as his night tremors got worse. The hospital was lit, though smelled less sanitary than he was used to. An angular beam of light focussed on the needle in his hand. He felt no pain. He just watched the tube fill with yellow liquid and disappear into his veins. Whenever he awoke he sensed the other selves. They were looking for a convict. God save the queen, one of them called, and he heard how the child howled, the child Margarethe was pregnant with. Strange, he thought, I had forgotten my first son. He wondered if he had dreamed young Harry, but the missionary said he heard whispering on the YMCA steps. Trebitsch realised they’d had the conversation before. One of the nurses told him that a coming world willl sweep away a mad civilisation of suffering and more suffering. He replied he needed to go to the toilet. She fetched him a robe, which at first he thought belonged to that of a monk. Over the weeks, nurses took his temperature and he didn’t have to move. When fever got him, he turned in his bed with otherness until the pillow was in his mouth. He wanted it to end. Time ruptured and unravelled its chain. Every second was partitioned, louder.

Back in the cell, he examined the wall for coded routes of escape, seeing letters written into the wall. He tried to find his name spelled out by scrapes. He would make an anagram. But he could not be relieved and settled on the signs of his initials.The prison guards banged the bars, first like the sound of a carriage then more infernally. It was wrong, in the way the reconstruction of the Hotel Adlon was wrong. He wondered for a moment if it wasn’t Reginald Hall taunting him, clattering the bars with his revolver. He was gripped with the idea of going to Vienna but remembered The Hague would see him. He turned over on the mattress, to the brown bricked windows he dreamt again of broken glass on soil. Margarethe sat in floral spring dress. On the bed in the Mission House spare room she sat, still, like a hawk. Her hands were clasped with her mother beside, in purple. Neither flinched. Sir Bertie was in the hallway, laughing. The pillow was obstructing Trebtisch’s throat. Absolutely worthless, he heard a voice say. You will not be paid for the codes or for anything by us ever! Then black balls filled his vision, floating liquid mucus in tar, some hours of fragmented forms of the betrayed. They were many: Lypshytz, McCarter, Burt and Archbishop Davidson. Rowntree was there of course, interviewing him for a job with Jewish Missionary Intelligence. Herbert and Gilbert Samuel sang God Save the Queen. Marshals Proctor and Johnson complaining about curtailed nights out, his own brothers annoyed about peeling potatoes, Warden Hayes calling for him to be condemned in the Venusberg and the voices of the guards Keating and Danbeck and Charles Jundt, their trust betrayed to his advantage. His boys, far away, seemed to reach out for mercy from some far away island. It was the worst night of his life. In the five minutes before he awoke, Trebitsch assembled his other selves, seven of them now, and said they must pool their efforts. They had before. Reginald Hall had stopped them and he had sent millions of boys to die. Together his plan to crimson the oceans could be halted. His other selves murmured. Only the voice of the spy agreed firmly and this made the hairs on the back of Trebitsch’s head stand up. The dream itself, the recurring dream, was firmly tucked away from memory. As the fever fell, the other selves dripped away or stepped back into the walls. When he thought about it they’d declared their nationality and want for revenge, but he conceded he’d made this up after the fact. After five months in the infirmary he dreamt of balls of silver. He slept peacefully and was up and walking. The first reports came in of an Armistice in Europe. In dark cells, Parkhurst celebrated and he was his animated self again, even forgot for a time all ideas of revenge.

Dear Margarethe, my loving wife, I realise what I ask is bold but understand; there can be no other recourse. The Home Secretary laid this ultimatum with his order. So, my nationality has been revoked, and by extension of our marriage, yours too. You must understand. We are stateless. If you do not want our sons twisted against us, you will renounce Britain. Have them denaturalised. As for Julius, when I am released he will find a job with me. It vexes me to learn he has been killing for the British Empire. I might disown him. He is of age to make responsible decisions. We shall soon be out of this country, which I looked up to in spite of all her shortcomings, as by far the foremost country in the world in all that appertained to fair play, honour and justice. My sentence is now almost up, and I hope yours shall be soon too. I wish you a happy Christmas and promise a better one by next year. Your loving husband, Ignacz.

Trebitsch looked forward to the day. May, 1919, time yet to make the Versailles peace conference. Time to catch the dances and songs on Paris streets, or Budapest. He packed his few belongings and two officers escorted him into the light. The steam train carried them past the bomb sites into the green English hills and finally the glistening sun upon the rippling sea. He talked of his great happiness to the men at the docks at Harwich. One of the officers were called to the telephone and returned, gravely. The balls of light swirled manically: silver, then brown and not translucent; he was led to the train. On the orders of the intelligence services and Home Office they took him back to Pentonville, through the bomb sites. The last bars of light sped from him and he was led into the darkness, struggling, hysterical and the cell door locked.

#
c. Andy Luke.
The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
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The image featured atop, sent to me by Laura Linham, comes from The Liverpool Post and Mercury – Wed July 6, 1916.

Writer’s Commentary – The Watch Thief Prologue / Chapter 1

Research and illness took their toll on schedules for The Watch Thief – the novelization of the remarkable life of Trebitsch Lincoln: adventurer, crook, spy, journalist, rector and the events and cities he lived in. You can read it here at https://andy-luke.com/watch-thief/

For a change I’m delivering two commentaries previously only available to Patreon $2-a-month subscribers.  Refresh yourself with the Prologue and Chapter One or dive straight in!

Hello, patrons. Thanks for reading the first shots in a story that’s sustained my interest for years, and my first regular wage in as long. The prologue begins with Ignacz’s father scrubbing up for church. I wanted to begin with physical contact. It’s a far way from the shaving scene beginning Joyce’s Ulysees (with that amazing image of crossed razors on top a mirror), but I think it works. Nathan and his family are Jewish Orthodox, I wanted to make that a special point, name the clothing exactly, so I found info on attire at UnitedWithIsrael.org and Mazorguide.com.

The Comedy Theatre of Budapest, aka The Vigszinhaz, was the big draw in expanding Budapest, but unfortunately it wasn’t built until 1897, the time of Chapter 1. So Ignacz was on his way to the Municipal Theatre. I wasn’t able to get an exact location but I was sure Paks, were Nathan’s family lived, was a journey that meant he’d cross one of the bridges over the Danube. The Municipal was old already, and small, though it was moneyed and elegant.

Austria-Hungary’s merger and dual monarchy was created in 1867. Budapest, rapidly expanding in the 1890s, was a finance and import capital. Magyar is the name Hungarians give themselves and the 1890s saw the nobility move there and bring more finance into the developments.

The prologue takes place on March 16th, according to Jens Malte Fischer, who recounts events at the performance of Lohengrin, in his book Gustav Mahler, by Yale University Press. I’m not sure if I got away with the Count Zichy reference, and to cast some exposition… Géza Zichy was the city commissioner with some suction in Arts and Culture but he was also part of the right-wing anti-foreigner attitude in government at the time. Mahler had been teaching, and serving as the principal conductor under a ten year contract since 1888, six years. He’d already been in line of sight from Budapest’s cultural conflict in the press a few times. When Zichy’s new role as Intendant was announced, Mahler understood many of his rights were curtailed and powers transferred. The cards were on the table. Mahler signed a new contract with the Hamburg Opera on the q.t. and knowing Zichy wanted him out, he approached him and a severance was offered. Mahler announced his resignation, but to the public it might have looked like Zichy shoved him, which would have happened eventually. I’ve no evidence to suggest Ignacz was there on the night of the Lohengrin riot, or attended Mahler’s classes, but he did try to fake his Drama School papers and sneaking into a theatre seems in his character.

Chapter 1

Nathan moved his family closer to the city. This occurs shortly after the prologue. He moved from “a solid barge transportation business to…high finance” (Wasserstein), and essentially playing the stock market, and lost it all. This is where we pick up, with Ignacz at Drama School, and all is not well.

Budapest Metro Line 1, still running, is the third oldest underground railway in the world, built 1894-1896. The other two were Tunel in Istanbul and City & South in London. Ignacz’s route along Andrassy Avenue has him in the direction of Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), where there’s a monument to the men of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. His brothers, Lajos and Sandor, share their names with the two front-men, still well thought of, so it seemed safe to assume they were named in their honour.

When writing the graphic novel script for this, it took six years to settle on a good idea for the opening page. It began with a first panel family row, and six panels devoted to Ignacz’s starry-eyed hallucination during the mugging. There’s no record to Ignacz suffering hallucinations here or any eye condition. It just fit with the new metro lights, and the star vision I had in mind. I’ve hallucinated or seen silver ball floaters attributed to Ignacz, since, oh, my teenage years. Often after I’m beset by a coughing or sneezing fit, but at times with no corresponding origin point. My earliest memory that fits how they look is from a Primary School teacher who had a box of Mercury in her room and delighted us moving about the shimmering globules. Mercury is highly dangerous and toxic. Rather than live in dread of seeing my floaters I’ve long ascribed a good luck status to these, despite being not generally superstitious.

It was important I get right the culture of theatre and opera surrounding Ignacz at that time and I selected five operas performed in 1890s Budapest and read the liberetto scripts. These were Siegfried and (as noted) Das Rheingold, Eugene Onegin; Don Giovanni, Lohengrin and Tannhauser. I used a cut-up style with about ten lines from each then paired that down to a manageable size. The arrangement was more conscious than random. Das Rheingold’s tale of greed, lust and narcissism is a good thematic fit. Lohengrin is a classic heroes tale about nobility. I should mention Ignacz’s mother, Julie, was from nobility, though it didn’t seem to do her favours when business went bad. The story of Tannhauser fit with Ignacz’s art ambitions and want to travel. Don Giovanni mixes “comedy, tragedy and drama with the supernatural”, which covers all my basis and Giovanni and Ignacz have many similarities. It was uppermost in my mind.

Lohengrin is a heroes tale of political conflict, a story closer here to Mahler than Ignacz, though maybe not in Ignacz’s mind. I was offered the chance to watch Lohengrin with a rowdy group a few weeks ago, but sadly slept in. (We have a monthly Opera Club where we watch streaming content on a large screen, mainly from the excellent Opera Platform ) Eugene Onegin, the only opera from these I’ve seen performed, has little in relevance in story to Ignacz’s tale. It’s also the least interesting tale. Stick with Don Giovanni, or Das Rheingold. I have a list of which lines came from which operas but do you really want to know?

Oh, and we also get quotes from Clerks 2 and Forrest Gump, and I was aiming to place Quantum Leap’s ‘Oh Boy!”

A Note On Wasserstein

My research for Ignacz comes from many sources. Easily the most invaluable of these is Bernard Wasserstein’s The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln, from Penguin. Wasserstein’s version is a notably excellent piece of historical autobiography, drawing on solid research and it’s a riveting read. With this, which will rightfully be called an adaptation by some, I’ll be leaving out notable details, inventing others…Wasserstein delivers context but I aim to push this further, colour it in, include unsubstantiated reports Wasserstein firmly refutes.

I’ve amassed a large image archive and I’ll be reproducing some, though it looks like Patreon requires me to make separate posts.

Over on Patreon, Chapter 24 is nearly ready: the half-way point! You can read every chapter and commentary for The Watch Thief for just $2 U.S. for 30 days through Paypal, bank account, debit or credit card.

That’ll also get you e-comics, ‘We Shall Not Be Stapled’ by myself and ‘A Hand of Fingers’ by John Robbins. If there’s a rush on, or you sign up for $5 I’ll also unlock the artblog, the photo grids, process videos, poetry and short stories.

The Watch Thief – Chapter 20

Raymond Street Jail, April 1st, 1915
It was a Saturday evening, three days before his thirty-seventh birthday and if he was honest, the jail was not like a hotel. A bed should not go wall to wall. A desk was smaller without a bookcase. Why did a door need a lock when a door was already a lock in and of itself? Down the hall hacking coughs spread viral ills among the draught. Bernard talked in his sleep in the next cell. Warden Hayes rarely visited Trebitsch these days and his friends among the guards were assigned other wings. The Feds were taking no chances. Rowntree had once noted how easily he seemed to make friends.
Trebitsch wondered if perhaps Officer Keating was stepping past Haskins cell on North 3. There was no sound in the South wing. Keating, and Danbeck, had become his new officer chums in the month since his recapture. They thrilled to his tales of interpreting German cables, he even gave the officers lessons in decoding. Perhaps they might have discussed it over supper in the basement, though probably not this night. Keating and Danbeck had introduced Trebitsch to Hastings, one of New York’s Five Points Gang. If Torrino, Capone, Siegel or Boss Kelly could get Trebitsch out of prison, a second escape, the Germans would much easier take him into their confidence.
Officer Danbeck was as gullible as Keating. By now, he would have taken the hand-drawn map of the wings, the Keeper’s room, the basement and Warden’s office. Working with Kelly was a regrettable necessity, Trebitsch said. In return the two brave officers would be rewarded by their government. They’d be promoted to civil service posts in sunny Mexico. Or they might be sent on a nationwide lecture tour. Those were good enough reasons for Danbeck to take his note outside the gates and find Kelly’s gang.
Lights out was at seven and it was nearing ten. Kelly’s gang were given a script for the gates to be opened and told to bring ropes, chains and gags. The gagging was best done in  Warden Hayes room. The keeper would call the guards up from the basement and they’d disappear behind Hayes’ timber door. The grill door kerranged open, a metallic shunting like reality torn. Trebitsch quietly slipped on his boots to a fumbled ring of keys. Most guards were randomly posted around the prison, free for Kelly to pick off. The movement in South Tier had taken longer than expected. Trebitsch tightened as the bars to his cell were unlocked. He didn’t recognise the man, the electric torch shining in his eyes. Trebitsch followed as he was told to do. They went together to the iron stairs and down, across to the entrance hall and into Hayes’ office.  His guide opened the door to a group of heavily armed men.
THREE MONTHS LATER 
Fifty year old DCI Alfred Ward knew Richard Muir’s form well. When he’d brought in Seddon, the flypaper murderer, before the courts it was Muir prosecuting. Officer and prosecutor had worked together on taking down the men behind the Great Pearl Heist and now Ward had returned from Brooklyn to Liverpool with Trebitsch Lincoln in tow. They sat before Bow Street Magistrates Court and Muir was pleased to hear him.
“The rogue jailer had been intercepted before he even left the prison,” said Ward. “I am told Mr. Lincoln expected the Kelly gang waiting and found instead a group of heavily armed federal agents.”
“Your honour, these are fertile grounds for keeping him,” said Muir.
Light laughter burst across the court, cut short by objections from the defendant’s bench. The chief magistrate, John Dickinson, eyed Trebitsch.
“Mr. Lincoln, you cannot object on every occassion,” he said.
Trebitsch flew up, raised his hand to the court and his eyes sparkled as he chittered. “As you know the court has denied me legal aid your honour. I am forced to represent myself and so I am dependent on Detective Ward in procuring my required witnesses.”
“Which witnesses?” asked the magistrate.
“Your honour, since the Admiralty instigated the case against me I have attempted to subpoena Admiralty witnesses. Winston Churchill has written to say he knew nothing for or against me. Unlikely! Yet neither Captain Hall nor his aide have been made to appear. Hayward, the M.P. who first sent me to Sir Henry Dalziel, is conveniently leaving England today with his regiment. Both Dalziel and Captain Kenny have also declined to respond. Frankly, Detective Ward’s credibility as my representative is dubious.”
Dickinson sighed. “Detective Ward, you have informed the witnesses on the defendant’s list?”
He answered yes, he had, and Dickinson cast aside Trebitsch’s objection.
Richard Muir was permitted to bring in his next witnesss. Trebitsch gazed out of his gold rimmed specs and his bald head grew sweaty as Rowntree took the stand. Muir allowed him to open up on their history and how letters addressed to him where stolen from the National Liberal Club.
  “The letters in evidence were not authored by my hand. I would say they are how Mr. Lincoln obtained money from Mr. Goldstein. Through false pretences.”
 “Thank you, Sir,” said Muir.
“The defence has questions,” said Trebitsch.
Dickinson permitted him to proceed. He got to his feet, looked around at the journalists, then eyed Rowntree.
“Didn’t you find it strange that the Admiralty, whose function one connects solely with the Navy, should all of a sudden reveal themselves as a branch office of the Public Prosecutor?” he asked.
Rowntree was caught off guard. “I don’t know the arrangements of justice in this country…”  “You didn’t question Admiral Hall’s interest in this?” Trebitsch asked.
Again, Rowntree looked out in confusion, first to Lincoln, then to Judge Dickinson.
“No,” he said. “I had been assured the Admiralty had good reason to doubt Mr. Lincoln’s loyalty to the Crown.”
“In other words, this forgery was a subterfuge of the Admiralty’s to try me for something else in the public interest?”
“No!”
“It is quite clear,” said Trebitsch, “I have been brought back to England under false pretenses – to be tried for one crime in order to be punished for another.”
“I said they doubted your loyalty to the British Crown, and therefore that it was advisable to take these proceedings in order that you might be punished, and if that punishment involved imprisonment, that you would not be a danger to the British nation.”
Trebitsch seemed to be gathering these words inwards, using them to strengthen his bones. When Rowntree was done, he grinned ear to ear. Slowly, he announced. “Thank God that you have said that!”
Rowntree didn’t seem to understand and became worried. “I had been told by the Admiralty that my former employee had been trying to blackmail officials into paying him a great sum of money for information he had purpotedly obtained in Holland.”
“Oh? I thought I was being tried for forgery? Is this punishment for a political crime? Mr. Rowntree, why do you think the Admiralty did not use their evidence against me to initiate action before I fled to America at the end of January 1915?”
The judge bang-banged his gavel, and the words were out of Rowntree’s mouth. He was only repeating what the Admiralty had told him.   “They feared you were a danger to the British nation.”
“It’s a lie!”
“The account of your conduct in Holland had seemed so suspicious that I had not even asked the Admiralty for proof of their assertions, and no evidence had been offered.”
“Because they had none!” said Trebitsch. Then he reduced his voice to a whisper. “Mr. Rowntree, they have duped you!”
He had no questions after that. Muir called his next witness, “Alfred Douglas Farmer,” profession, “publisher,” his relationship to the defendant, “former company director for the Galician and Roumanian oil operations.”
“Mr. Farmer, were there fraudulent activities associated with Mr. Lincoln’s conduct in these businesses?”
Farmer was an old stout Scotsman, yet there was a frailty about his speech. “The receiver’s report listed the main problems. The books were not balanced; contracts were not in place.”
“And Ladenburg’s, the investors? There were anomalies even after the receivership?”
“Equipment went missing from the Galician sites, equipment then belonging to Ladenburg’s. Only a few key people had access. Nothing was proven though and I could not make accusations.”
The remarks were not relevant to the charges before them and were crossed off. Muir let it go easy, his hands already among his papers and he pulled out a slip which he showed to Farmer.  “This is a bill of exchange for £200, dated 30 October, 1914. It looks like your signature, but it isn’t. Could you tell the court what you told Scotland Yard?”
“This promissory note is a forgery, which was presented by Trebitsch Lincoln to illegally acquire finances from Mr. Samuel Finklestone.”
“I’m sorry,” said Judge Dickinson, “I thought Mr. Rowntree said it was a Mr. Goldstein was the victim of the forgery?”
“That is so, your honour. Mr. Farmer, here, is the victim of a second forgery, identical in the manner of which it was perpetrated on Rowntree and Goldstein.”
 “Well, I see. Thank Goodness you’ve kept note, Mr. Muir.”
Muir looked down to his ‘playing cards’, facts of the case written in different coloured pencil. Farmer had initiated proceedings through Scotland Yard shortly after the fraud. Muir entered the note into evidence from the Yard. Then Trebitsch got up to speak.
“I think the piece of paper has no value, but you, Mr. Farmer, you have got your way. Tell me, the Admiralty took an interest in your grievance, did they not?”
“Admiral Hall called to see me,” he said.  “Did he mention that he suspected me of treason?”  “I was not told about it at that time,” said Farmer.
“No further questions,” said Trebitsch.
 John Goldstein traded as J. Granger out of 11 Duke Street, Picadilly London. He was thin, with a good head of hair: shrewd and formal, but the proceedings were making him nervous. He was suffering from the high pollen count and reached for his handkerchief regularly
“I was on the board of Galician Amalgamated Oil from May 1911,” he told the court. “I furnished Mr. Lincoln with loans of £100 to £600 during his oil enterprises. Sometimes it was weekly. The loans were almost never repaid.”
“Would you sum up, Mr. Goldstein, the details surrounding the final loan of £900?”
“I provided it on agreement a suitable guarantor could be found. I received a letter I understood to be signed by Mr. Rowntree. Of course, there was no guarantor.”
“The initial loan was due to be paid back on 30 November, 1914,” Muir said.
“Yes. Trebitsch then asked for an extension and wrote another letter posing as Rowntree and offering to extend the guarantee.”
When Muir was done, Trebitsch said, “I would like to cross-examine the money-lender, Mr. Goldstein.”
He put down the thick bundle of papers in front of him. He stood, twirled on his heel and looked up and down the row of reporters. He’d dazzled them earlier, spinning his trilby. Now he spread out his arms and shook his hands at his side. He regarded Goldstein as if a low perched hawk to nesting chick.
“Mr. Goldstein, Chief Basil Thomson came to take your statement on this. Did he have anyone else with him at the time?”
“Admiral Hall also paid a visit,” he said.
“What do you suppose his interest in all this is?”
“I was told by Captain Hall that this case was one of flagrant forgery and that it would be simpler to imprison you for it,” he said.
“Simpler, than what?” he demanded.
“Simpler, I took it, than having you charged with treason or espionage. They thought you were a dangerous character.”
“Where you offered payment by the Admiralty for testifying against me?”
“I was not,” said Goldstein.
               *              *             *
The next to give testimony was Samuel Finkelstone, a banker of Jermyn Street.
“I loaned Trebitsch £100 in Spring 1914. It was due in October when he arrived with a promise note signed by Alfred Farmer. He presented me with Mr. Farmer’s letter and I gave him a further £150.”
“Mr. Farmer reported the fraud. May I ask why you did not?” asked Muir.
“Sir. I was unaware. The total amount was due to be repaid January 30th.”
“Thank you for your candour, Mr. Finklestone. I’ll not take up any more of your time.”
Trebitsch let out a long sigh and got to his feet. “The defence has no questions for Mr. Finklestone. I am in no physical condition to go on with this. I’ve had no meat to eat since yesterday…”
“Well, there’s no reason to cross-examine Mr. Finklestone at this time,” puffed Judge Dickinson.
 “I prefer that, because I’m absolutely starving. I don’t know whether it’s intentional to reduce my physical condition that I can hardly stand up for myself, but it’s hardly fair to do it. To return to the matter of the Admiralty bringing this trial, I defy the British Government and I dare them to proceed with this trial – even though I may be guilty of forgery – after the ruling of the United States Court, and I have no doubt about it that the Secretary of State in Washington will demand my immediate release because the American courts have been willfully and deliberately deceived and lied to and imposed upon.”
“The court is merely trying to determine whether there was a case against you, and not who initiated it!” said Dickinson.
“Your honour, context is everything here. If the jury is to be properly informed they will have read my book, entered into evidence, telling of my employ by Captain Kenny and Admiral Hall in a mission of international espionage begun ten years prior. It is true I sought a way out of this. In parliament I saw other people far less clever than myself making a lot of money and was determined to do the same. I was driven on by ambition, lured by the deceptive prizes of life. I did not expect to be betrayed by the Intelligence services.. I had no other choice. My wife and children were stranded on the continent. I had to get the money from somewhere!”
Margarethe wept from the public stands, the sound reverberating, a heavy rain on the courtroom. She was dressed in poor clothes, a too thin leftover. From across the gallery they were caught in the sorrow of her newly old skin. A number of those who realised they’d forgotten she was even there then recognised that so had her husband. He inhaled sharply and attempted to carry on.
“I..am now, I am now going to make sensational remarks you will hardly believe. I met Admiral Hall to discuss the rare codes I obtained for him in Holland and the plan I had devised that would sink the German fleet.”
Margarethe’s sobs died away. Trebitsch was explaining the strategy on how the fleet would be drawn out when Dickinson interjected.
 “This hearing concerns only the forgery charges and whether or not they should be pressed. Since you’ve already confessed, I am moving this matter to the central criminal court. Hopefully there, they’ll reach a speedy conclusion!”
TWO WEEKS LATER
Thomas Scrutton presided over the session at the Old Bailey. His beard, never shaved, and forward almost hunchbacked posture bore down on the assembled. It was a familiar setting for Muir, acting again as the Crown Prosecutor. In this room he had taken down Dr. Crippen, and ten years before, the Stratton Mask Murderers, incriminated by a single fingerprint. Scrutton appreciated his professionalism but did not suffer fools. When Trebitsch entered a plea of not guilty he did not win Scrutton over. As Finklestone and Farmer spoke, Trebitsch’s rage bubbled. Each time Scrutton’s gaze intimidated him into silence.
When Trebitsch did speak in his defence he referred again and again to the remand hearing. It became clear to Muir he was stalling for time. Rowntree was called to the stand. Trebitsch sat stiller than ever. Rowntree said he’d no reason to modify his original statement. Suddenly, Trebitsch twitched. He got to his feet, banked grievances pouring out of him. Was it right that without any evidence to support the allegations that he should prosecute a man who had done excellent work in confidence for many years? Scrutton said Rowntree did not need to answer that question. Neither Rowntree nor Trebitsch had anything more to say to one another.
The court learned from Goldstein that Trebitsch confessed all to him in an ill, suicidal state. Trebitsch asked Goldstein again if he was offered money by the Admiralty to bring charges. The final person to take the witness box was Trebitsch himself. He demanded appearances from Churchill, Hall, Kenny and Dalziel: witnesses to prove the origin of this case, his danger politically, and his importance to the Admiralty. Scrutton said that was irrelevant to the charges in his case.
“One would wish I’d get a fair trial. Members of the jury, Richard Muir’s evidence is inconclusive. At Bow Street I freely confessed to guilt in the vain hope of arousing the Government to the grievous injustice being done to me. Patriotism is to serve your country to the best of your ability, but the patriotism of these years, is to shield to blundering permanent officials and ministers. You must not criticize them, even if you ruin the country. You are not here as patriots but as jurors. I admit that I would have a trial such as I am having in no other country in the world! I’ve had many adventures in my short life, but none of them has ever come up to this, I can assure you! Oh – it is most, most entertaining! Imagine the picture, gentlemen of the jury! The great and mighty British lion is afraid of shaking before I.T.T. Lincoln! Believe me, gentlemen, if the Admiralty had only taken my advice, the German Navy would not only have ceased to exist long ago, but the war would have been won by England! Alas! You are all too slow in England, gentlemen, too slow in chemistry, in science, in warfare – in everything. And if you hadn’t an element of Scotch blood in your veins, Heaven only knows what would have happened to England!”
Trebitsch stepped down. Scrutton called the jury to decide on the facts of the two cases of forgery. They whispered together three minutes, and Scrutton informed the court of the guilty sentence, a sentence of three years penal servitude. Trebitsch was taken down, out and returned to the darkness of a cell.
#
c. Andy Luke.
The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

The Watch Thief – Chapter 19

Saturday 15 January, 1916: Joe’s Restaurant, Brooklyn.

Trebitsch passed the wash-room, opened the fire exit into the corridor. Ethel flashed lights, picked him up at the other end of the subway. They sped across Brooklyn Bridge and Hells Kitchen, through the remnants of Little Germany. She dropped him on the kerb at West 125th Street, kissed him as he left. Upstairs, Anna took his cap to burn. Charles applied the lather and he looked at himself. In the black frock he resembled the Canadian curate. As the razor carved it peeled back with it came Trebitsch, the M.P. His hair was thinned out on top. He could be anyone, he thought. Charles cut and he tried not to think about Anna. Just a slip, that’s all it would take. As he waited for a change of clothes, he heard their boy call out, the child so terrified by the blinking spy. The Jundts drove him to the station where Anna brushed his hand with a hundred dollars.

Grand Central Terminal was new, the biggest station in the world. Seated rows waited, then all aboard Vanderbilt’s New York Railroad: fast, clean, along the old streetcar line. 59th and 86th and the prime real estate around Park Avenue tunnel, over the Harlem River: the Bronx and station houses over tracks. Then, White Plains. His destination. Mabel told reception to expect him late but he climbed the stairs of Silver Lakes Hotel shaking, his nerves and the cold night having clubbed together to cling hard to his bones. The porter was too keen with conversation. Trebitsch locked the door.

Deputy Johnson thanked the desk clerk at the Knickerbocker and crossed town to The Intercontinental, waited for the staff to have a free moment. A minute later he was out onto the street. He checked three more bars on the way to Decatur Street; rapped the front door. When there was no answer he rang the third floor bell and waited.

Proper sleep re-energised Trebitsch. He spent Sunday in his room, imagined morning headlines. On Monday he took the papers up there. ‘Lincoln escapes! Leaves a letter for the Government! Does not want to be extradited to England!’ There were none of these and this unsettle him. He walked by the woodlands and wild fields with little streams, Horton Pond and the grain mills; the Quaker settlement. He went out to the new city: stores departmentalised; a destination retail location. He couldn’t imagine something so ludicrous.

An hour and twenty-five miles away, Francis Johnson knocked hard the door of The Park View. His face pale white beads of sweat, he took the news of no guest matching description. He tried the Parlour. Bosco had not seen him either. The door to every toilet cubicle every place checked. Johnson walked up and down the streets before rounding back to Decatur, where he rang the bell and waited.

Silver Lakes dining room was for only dining. Boundaries of cutlery, drab non-Morris walls repeating swags and tassels. The drawing room had cushioned leather and deep rugs and above, a walkway surround invited residents to peer down. That day had Japan claim China’s economy and Congress authorise a new gold coin. Vaudeville man of German farces, Gus Williams, had shot himself in the head at a train station in nearby Yonkers. Hiding beneath his paper, Trebitsch concocted greater copy. ‘How he fooled the whole of the U.S.A. police. Brandy and Girls. Washington thought he would decipher it’s code letters – Satisfied with prison life – District Attorneys Should Not Visit Bars – What he thinks about the end of the war.’ He turned the page, then flapped a page, scanned, and flapped to another sheet, racing through the columns until it was done. Then, he picked up the next newspaper. And another. There was no mention of his escape. He didn’t merit a stub. He four-folded newspapers with finality. He shaved off his moustache and when he was done locked the room behind him.

The train tore through the tree cover of Hartsdale and Tudor Scarsdale, him looking into people’s living rooms, a two horn snort whistle by the cargoes of Yonkers pairing with the Bronx River, heart beating faster, the big sky over Wakefield. Happy the trade of wasteland freight-only Port Morris for Romanesque steeples, arches of Mott-Haven: past Central and the Lincoln Tunnel. On Broadway, he found a payphone. Soeiro was excited. Of course he’d heard. He was The New YorkAmerican‘s editor and made sure it was the afternoon edition front page. Trebitsch said he wouldn’t be drawn into a trap. Soeiro begged. It would be good sense, the publicity. He should hurry. The chemists sold Trebitsch cheap glasses which he put on under flat cap. His head was fixed on the pavement along Newspaper Row.

The newsroom fell quiet when Trebitsch entered.

“A full manhunt is under way. You’ve embarrassed the Feds and infuriated the judges,” said Soeiro.

Trebitsch was assigned a transcriber. The audience stayed quiet as he held court, once jester now King.

“I am sorry for the precarious position in which Deputy-Marshal Johnson finds himself. It would be unjust to punish him. Not all the forces of the United States Secret Service could have prevented the carrying out of my carefully laid scheme. After all, I am a past master in such work.”

Only Soeiro left them to it. He got a photographer and booked Trebitsch a car. His head was testing out headlines too. ‘Lincoln Speaks Out, Great Britian’s Guilt in Unjust War. Mr. Lincoln’s Book Tour – An American Exclusive.’

“The British know something of my past, and they are afraid of me. Captain Kenny knew I was an active spy in Central Asia, working as a Buddhist monk.”

“What next, Mr. Lincoln? Will you return to the Orient?”

“I have a scheme to make an end to British rule there and in Egypt too. You will do well to watch the East. When you hear of a great religious revival there, think of I. T. T. Lincoln.”

The sub-editor took the text to the composing room and Soeiro gave Trebitsch $300 cash. It would only take a minute to go to The New York World next door and refute everything he’d just said. Trebitsch got his extra $200 and was led out to the waiting car.

On Thursday, the Foreign Office in London got a telegram. Eyre Crowe reported it in person to the new Home Secretary, Herbert Samuel. He braced himself. Each was as angry as the other.

“The deputy waited two days to report it. He’s being dealt with,” said Crowe. “They have his brothers and associates all under observation.”

“It is utterly absurd,” said Samuel, “amazing negligence.”

“The Justice Department have launched an internal investigation. I’m informed his book is out in a few days.”

Samuel was bearing teeth. “Consider it banned. No copies shall enter Britain. Mr. Crowe, I would ask the Foreign Office consider it of urgent importance this fugitive be recaptured.”

On Friday, the newspaper vendor outside the Federal Building stopped Agent Benham in his tracks with the American exclusive. On Saturday his agents questioned Hearst’s employees. On Monday, the vendor was selling the book. Revelations of an International Spy, by I. T. T. Lincoln. Benham smacked Marshal Proctor around the head with it.

On Tuesday, the reviews continued, Trebitsch eagerly devouring each and keenly disappointed. Hearst’s American and Pulitzer’s World wrestled for coverage. He wrote to the latter and his update appeared in Wednesday’s edition. The snow was falling in White Plains. Two hundred men looking, allegedly. Trebitsch decided, having sent more copy for Friday, that he was too hot for Westchester.

On the electric train out he saw Tuckahoe: a name he liked; Mount Vernon stared back; after Wakefield greener then broader; he watched the New Haven Line diverge to Long Island Sound; Woodlawn Station, site of recent tragedy and bereavement; Fordham with Haberken Jewelers, the sign reading ‘Soda Luncheon’. At Midtown, he took a ferry over Hudson to Weehawken Terminal. Then Hackensack, Passaic. Not yet New Jersey Turnpike. Point No Point: name of promonotory at Kitsap. He nodded off by worked tidal wetlands at Newark Meadows. By the bay. Startled by the bell at Amboy, fought back to sleep over the Navesink, signal of Red Bank.

He walked beside dead country road through mud and bank looking for the weak glow of the farm-house as collapsing grey sky crept in. The path to Jody’s farmhouse was gravelled as rough as Jody himself, a German stout and bold. Trebitsch introduced himself as Timothy, Charles Jundt’s friend, whom he’d called ahead for, there was a room for him. The offered hand waited between them. Jody was a dirty, sweaty man with bad teeth and a face full of agricultural injuries. The farmer looked the scrawny elf up and down, then let go of the frame and walked back in, waiting for Trebitsch to follow. It was a small parlour, one room backing out into a dingy kitchen.

“Thank you very much for allowing me to stay at such short notice. Charles is a wonderful –”

Listen, friend. The rooms are through that door. To the right. The second one is yours. Do not move things around.”

I understand, I understand. I know you probably toil relentlessly to make ends meet. As a surveyor in Belgium I met many farmers renting out rooms to make up the shortfall…”

Jody wasn’t interested. He was already in his bedroom before Trebitsch finished speaking. Trebitsch found his room and tugged his boots off and the pain went with them.

The following morning Trebitsch woke sharply at 4am, by the last hoots of the owl and first verse of the woodcock. He lay a while. Jody was gone when he heated up the kettle on the gas stove. He washed, then poured a hot tea. He opened the back door, set his cup on the chipped sill with the sun, a magical light on the fields. He breathed in the romance of it. Breathed the country air, freedom blew in his eyes. Craning cows with firm slaved bodies plodded and flies buzzed around chunks of horse arse at the stables. Around ten he saw fat grey smoke and found Jody with his hand, T.C., hauling carcasses off a truck. He stood at a distance, the men watching one another. A flap of a man, T.C. said, then chucked another fox on the fire. Trebitsch put a handkerchief to his face. They laughed.

Gorgon tree leaves the house by a fence step to mottled green. He found drowned flower and plant snot on the pond; bridge lichen; light leaves and birch speckle before the spatter of duck flight. Late afternoons inside window with a tint of break, the scullery, where he was expected to cook spuds. Off a table with food cut into grain he, Jody and T.C. ate mutton by tools and greasy lamp. When night came, it was everywhere, night stretching broadly; fields across fields, on either side, above and behind with crystal spiralling stars.

Morning news, February 3rd, of the arrest of Wener Horn for the Canadian Bridge bombing. Trebitsch recognised Horn from Von Papen’s foyer. There was the hanging of Archduke Ferdinand’s assasins. Reported sightings of Trebitsch at Silver Lake Hotel, locations in Baltimore, Albany and Chicago. He wrote to the American that afternoon.

Trebitsch, Jody and T.C. exercised mutual hatred. T.C. had a scabby face and a voice like a motor, like flint blistering ear. Their business was animal carcass disposal. T.C. had a fixation sexualising garotted animals. Once, gloved, he fingered through racoon’s eyes to animate cranium for Trebitsch’s reaction.

“Teecee, what have i told you about that?” Jody said. “They shit everywhere, but he knows better.”

“Iss true. That coon’s a disease train right there,” said T.C.

A week later, Trebitsch’s money ran out. The same day Jody got a call from town. Over a hundred pounds of deer carcass were to be pulled from between a fence. The job needed three people minimum Trebitsch knew he’d be spotted, knew it would buy him points with his unfriendly landlord. T.C. drove. Jody pointed out the church, Tower Hill, at the corner of Broad and Reckless where they cleaned bat puke. He told Trebitsch more than he needed to know of his work around town where they’d bashed in brains of skunks and squirrels. They’d laid the poison and watched rodent’s insides try to escape their skin.

“Bin raiders and wire chewers. Burn them before they burn us,” said T.C.

“They like to squeeze into these tight spots,” said T.C. when they found the deer with it’s head lodged in the fence bordering two houses. “After they’ve done their harm, the adrenalin has them run until they finds some place safe to close the eyes. It’ll often think it can go fu’ther than it does,” he said.

With all their might they hefted it onto the path. Dead deer laid like dog with girl fingers and soft rabbit face; rippled hair coat worn low onto knees: sock-feet too small.

“The bigger the animal the bigger the stench,” said Jody.

They flapped canvas over trailer ridges and heaved the body on the truck. Trebitsch was weak. He nearly puked four times. At the farm the corpse was sanitized, cleaned of bacteria and maggots. They turned turf while it burned bloody clouds.

The next morning was a vomiting storm with epileptic trees. Jody was annoyed Trebitsch couldn’t pay his bills. He threatened him with a gunshot. So Trebitsch worked for his sanctuary. He dug holes for maggot filled roosters, bashed badgers by burrow holes, washed red dots rambling off rocks. He accompanied them into town were rampant little mice pottered under floorboards, cottages with something in the attic and carted dead things over dark damp uneven fields. In the evenings they’d undress and wash their chests, hairy black legs, swinging cocks and dirt printed fingernails. Trebitsch wasn’t cut out for the work. His back constantly felt as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. The rain though some days lashed down to his socks was never enough to shake the feeling the earth was biting his soles

About a week later, T.C. threw a testicle at him.

“You’ve the muscle of a scarecrow. Like Bessie without the milk,” he said.

Jody said, “He’s not wrong. ‘Oh, the moneys coming soon, theres more were that he came from’. Well where is it? You think we are dimwits. I know there’s a bounty out. $250. Maybe we should cash in.”

“Please, gentlemen, don’t be rash. Jody, I will get you your rent. I have items in my room in Brooklyn that I can sell. And the news-papers, they are very interested in paying me!”

It was decided the three of them would go to Manhattan. Trebitsch wore his dark Homburg tan overcoat under lounge suit. Jody dropped him and T.C. at the flar and arranged to meet them later. They picked up two cases of clothes for the pawn shop on Amsterdam Avenue. T.C. didn’t like the city. Everyone was bunged up with stress and anger, like pigs bathing in the mud of how important they were. Trebitsch took him to a German restaurant and turned on the charm, suggested a visit to a strip club. T.C. softened and mulled it over.

The waiter phoned the police as they walked towards Broadway to meet Jody. The police already knew where he was. He saw them flank Jody, turned quickly, right into T.C.’s arms. Trebitsch got roughed up against the wall. Agent Benham took the labourer out of the way and cuffed him.

“My, but you’re excited! You’re shaking so that you can hardly hold that gun! Congratulations on capturing the cleverest man in America!”

He talked non-stop. The journalists and photographers awaited him at Raymond Street.

“Why, those fellows couldn’t have caught me in a hundred years! I was betrayed into their hands! A fine piece of detective work! “

“Mr. Lincoln, why were you so critical of the police in your letters to the American?”

“My book needed as much publicity as I could give it!” he said.

Agent Benham and Warden Hayes marched him through deep cut halls of the gaol. They applauded off benches in the House of Correction and House of Commons.

#

c. Andy Luke, 2017

The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

Thematic image source: Stult’s Farm, New Jersey, 1915

 

The Watch Thief, Chapter 18

Saturday 15 January, 1916: Joe’s Restaurant, Brooklyn.

Joe’s was where people met people. Men and women swam in one another’s eyes, five friends laughed at every table. Among all the parties Francis Johnson, twenty-two, sat at his table, feeling alone. An old man looked at him judgementally from the table opposite. His whiskey on the rocks shook like boats in a harbour at night.

One Month Earlier…

Over breakfast, Trebitsch was ribbed by Lampe and Bernard. He’s planning his great escape, they said. Trebitsch smiled and waved it off. I’m merely helping out where I can. But didn’t Tunny from the bomb squad grill him? Well, said Trebitsch, that just put the idea in my head to offer my services: I wrote to them several letters outlining the project, and Agent Benham, cleared it. That must speak very well of me, he said. They roared with laughter. Super secret double agent! Gentlemen, we are sat beside a master code breaker. Trebitsch said, we will see if Judge Veeder orders my extradition while I am working for the Bureau of Investigation!

An electric bell drilled in the high hall; twelve keys turned; large steel prison gates shifted back. Trebitsch walked with Marshal Proctor twenty minutes along Fulton and Washington. The Federal building was four storeys: white, polished granite catching the light on the corner. They passed through the semi-circular arch into the sumptuous foyer and along to the mahogany staircase.

The office had two desks. Proctor’s, the larger of the two, faced the door with a window behind it. Trebitsch worked at the smaller one, sat against the wall with a clock over his head, large like a moon. It was half nine when Trebitsch opened the dossier. The first sheet was a carbon copy, line after line of numbers. The second was also numbers, different ones, everywhere. The third was full of numbers. At ten thirty, Trebitsch was copying them onto a fourth sheet, then a fifth by eleven. Proctor was in his mid thirties, a refined and calm gent. They spoke occasionally, when Proctor brought tea, and at midday, when Trebitsch suddenly exclaimed,

“Marshal Proctor! I will be able to decipher these in the next day or two!”

That is great news.” he said. “Well done.”

Shortly after Proctor packed up books and wallets in a black leather bag. Trebitsch was left alone for a while. He read the newspapers and took time to check over some of the proofs for his book. At one, there was a knock on the door. Deputy Johnson introduced himself, with lunch. Trebitsch set down his pen and puffed wearily. He turned to the young face and took the brown bag from his hand. Was cheese and ham alright? Trebitsch’s nostrils moved along the sandwich, inhaling, and he gave an approving ahhhh. He savoured it, the mayo pushing from the wholegrain. Johnson was tall, muscular, with a buzz-cut and a face showing fear from inexperience. Trebitsch gazed at the clock as he crunched into lettuce.

“You can take an hour,” said Johnson. “Proctor says you’re studying German cables?”

Trebitsch set down his sandwich and gave Johnson one of his sheets. “They’re from a German firm in San Juan, Porto Rico. It’s a combination code. A code within a code.”

“You’ve circled the threes.”

“The three recurs more than any other number. Does it look like a certain English letter to you, Marshal?”

Yes, yes, it does. Is this the special insight that led the Bureau to select you?”

Trebitsch spoke of Carl Gneist and Franz Von Papen, who Johnson knew to be a troublemaker. This led into a conversation about Trebitsch’s life as a preacher in Canada, his travels in South America (so he said), becoming a curate in England and a surveyor for one of the great social entrepreneurs. The conversation lasted the rest of the afternoon. They arranged that in the afternoons, when Proctor was usually out, Trebitsch would move to his desk and allow Johnson to work from his own.

Trebitsch’s work continued. In the mornings, Proctor and he walked by the Fulton Ferry District, it’s Romanesque Revival building. The Federal offices doubled as a courthouse and post office so the foyer was chaos, but the fourth floor office was quiet. It took a while to earn Proctor’s trust. When Proctor left and returned, he’d look around his office: the filing cabinet and telephone, bookcase and framed certificates until he was happy nothing had been stolen. Sometimes Trebitsch would feel his eyes crawl across his back. Largely, the deputies were fine with him reading the newspapers and checking over the proofs for his book. He transcribed the coded pages and checked for accuracy, patterns. Proctor brought him acetates and duplicates so he could examine them side by side. At the end of the second week, Proctor asked if Trebitsch would like to go with him to the deli.

They argued over the best deli in Brooklyn, and Proctor gave in to going for rolls on Flushing Avenue. They passed the Clarendon and Proctor asked if he’d drank there. Trebitsch said he had not. He didn’t drink beer a great deal, except after a day’s work. He added nothing tasted so good after a hard day’s grind. They talked of the battle at Greece’s border as they ate their rolls in the staff lounge, with Johnson and Tunny. Then it was time to go back to the columns of code, as was usual in the afternoons, just Trebitsch and Johnson. The deputy liked him well enough but was nervous and Trebitsch suggested they work either side of the same desk. So Johnson lifted his papers and got comfortable on Proctor’s chair. The cool breeze from the open window brushed the back of his neck.

“If you’re such a great German spy, why turn against them?” asked Johnson.

“It is not the people I hate, but the governments. Wheeling out their military machines! Turning the decent man into cannon fodder!”

“Agent Benham thinks you’ll try to escape,” said Johnson.

“Not I! I want to earn my freedom. I have sufficient facilities to do my work and I am being well treated. I want to regain my liberty by the proper steps.”

Late that day Proctor returned in jubilant spirits and asked for an update. Johnson said he’d made good speed on the case files and Trebitsch announced he too had made an exciting break-through. He believed he had discovered the key, perhaps he might even finish decoding the cable-grams the next morning.

“Wonderful!” said Proctor. “Wonderful! Well I’ve just had drinks at the Clarendon with Tunny. Quite lively!”

“It’s Tunny’s fortieth,” explained Johnson.

“We’re going to the The Clarendon for a meal this evening. Lincoln, why don’t you join us?”

“Well, that’s very kind, Marshal.”

“I’ll clear it with Warden Hayes; there’ll be no problem.”

Two hours later they were at the Clarendon chomping hamburgers and ribs, downing beer and whiskey. Trebitsch had seduced Mabel, a trim blonde with a lively laugh and they’d matched Johnson with her friend, amorous Ethel. The Federal guard who signed Trebitsch in each morning, he was there telling Proctor stories of a trip to California. They talked football and film and were heard by all in the restaurant who remarked loudly of people who show no consideration for others and ‘I came out to have a quiet meal’.

Proctor had already told Trebitsch to call him George and they were goading Francis Johnson into his first whiskey, the glass shaking in the young man’s hand.

“He becomes a man tonight!” roared Proctor, and slapped Trebitsch on the back.

Trebitsch felt the eyes upon him. A giant, at the opposite table, receding hair. Judge Veeder, jaw dropped. Trebitsch was not frozen to the spot, not long. He was lifted from his chair by Tunny and Proctor and carried to the bar for more whiskey. Recommendations! Veeder’s face was lost in the drinking games and womanising. He only returned to Trebitsch’s memory when the bars of Raymond Street prison rolled open, like a drum to his brain.

Several days later news reached Proctor’s office of Veeder’s complaint over prisoner’s privileges. Johnson, still hungover, was particularly upset. Trebitsch said he had Ethel’s number so it wasn’t all bad. So that day he checked for prime numbers and scrutinised for sequenced patterns in German. In the evening, he returned to jail. Warden Hayes was always keen to learn of updates. Jozsef didn’t visit him that night but Olive Jundt did. She loaned him $50. Her sister had lent him $50 the previous night. Johnson continued to be impressed with Trebitsch’s pages of circled ones and zeroes. Francis Johnson was moping about how he missed their socials and Proctor made a point of saying the prisoner had a right to eat. So they went to Trebitsch’s deli and Trebitsch bought lunch for them and Tunny. Behind bars at Raymond Street, he continued to work on his proofs, due with his publisher in a matter of days. During the long hot days, Trebitsch lined up the pages of code and looked for mirror images or paced, stretching his limbs, looking out over the sunny city’s roof-tops.

That evening, an agent for Trebitsch’s publishers McBride and Hitchcock stopped by Raymond Street for his proofs. Proctor had allowed him to work on them at the office, but had drawn the line at using the Bureau’s mail room to send them out. The book told the story of how he fooled Seebohm Rowntree with a pretence of research work as cover for espionage operations. He praised some diplomats he worked with, tarred others. The story’s great villains were Sir Francis Bertie and Sir Edward Grey, together conspiring to isolate and antagonise the German government and force them into war: drenching the world in purest vilest hatred.

It was Christmas Eve and over Trebitsch gave cards to the prisoners, to Warden Hayes, Proctor, Johnson and Tunny. Proctor was adamant they would go for drinks. Forget Veeder!They would just have to make sure not to drink at any bars judges frequented. So they arranged to go to Paddy’s and telephoned for Mabel and Ethel to join them. They were winding down when Trebitsch called out.

Eureka! Francis, see here! How the number five recurs. I think it relates to troop movements. And the number one, I think, is information of a particularly sensitive nature. Agent Benham will be very interested in this.”

Johnson said, “I have his phone number here. Would you like to call him to tell him the good news?”

“Oh yes! I shall call him right away!” said Trebitsch, and he did.

The week after Christmas Trebitsch was not short of visitors. His lady friends as well as the men from the Bureau called. He received a harrowing letter from Margarethe and wrote to her of his bold adventures.

The crypto-analysis continued in January. Trebitsch telephoned Agent Benham to request the aid of a code mathematician therefore settling the whole thing very quickly. To see in the new year, Johnson and Trebitsch found a saloon and knocked back several shorts, enjoying bourbon and rum. As Trebitsch signed his name in and out, both the prison warden and Federal security joked that it was good practice for his forthcoming book. The pages turned on the desk calendar, red and black through January. Trebitsch cabled Agent Benham to tell him only mechanical work remained, he was within an ace of a solution. And Marshal Proctor took him to Olive Jundt’s home for afternoon tea: he’d become quite keen on her. They went to Joe’s too, hot meals arriving through the hatch. Trebitsch offered to pay, but had bought a few rounds at Paddy’s and Proctor wasn’t having it.

Johnson found himself excited over the imminent release of Trebitsch’s book. He suggested a celebratory meal at Joe’s and they put in calls to Mabel and Ethel. Trebitsch led the way down Fulton Street with the cigar his young admirer had brought for him. Joe’s was on the corner with Pierpoint and they left took their coats off and got a table for four. The atmosphere was hearty with banter and love. The staff liked their regulars. Trebitsch excused himself and Johnson ordered his pinot grigot, and a Red Label whiskey for himself. He was getting a taste for it. The waiter brought the drinks over and menus, but he said they were waiting for company.

Johnson looked over the tables at the finely clothed mean and their mistresses and wives and wondered. He wondered if he was good enough for Ethel, if he’d get the promotion at work and if Trebitsch was alright in the lavatory. Had there been some accident? He asked for a menu and wondered about that. He knew what Trebitsch liked, that he’d almost certainly go for the noodles. Ethel would go for the cheeseburger and Mabel would likely have the pasta.

The wine was dulling. Thirty minutes passed. Johnson walked down to the basement. The stalls were empty, the cubicles too. Perhaps Trebitsch had missed him at the bar. Sure enough, he hadn’t seen were Johnson was sat. He climbed the stairs, made his way to the table. Perhaps he’d gone to look for Mabel and Ethel at Paddy’s or the Clarendon. He sat over his drink a few minutes more and knocked it back.

Trebitsch and the girls were at neither bar. The staff hadn’t seen them. Francis Johnson went back across the road to Joe’s and ordered another. They hadn’t seen Trebitsch and his coat was still in the cloakroom. Perhaps he had returned to his flat, or to Anna’s, or to the Federal building, or to Raymond Street.

#

c. Andy Luke, 2017

The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

Image source: Photo of the Week- Joe’s Restaurant, Brooklyn History.